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AmeriCorps VISTA

Why do you glean?

06.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Sharah Truett is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at the WSU Extension office in Port Angeles, WA.

VISTA member Sharah Truett interviewed several gleaning volunteers during the 2018 harvest season to find out what personally motivated them to glean.  Here is what they had to say:

“It doesn’t take much to end up in a predicament,” acknowledged gleaner Cindy Schrader.  She’s speaking from experience from a brief period in her life when she didn’t have enough food to eat. “I was a single mom living in Nebraska, living paycheck to paycheck.  My co-workers came to my rescue…they bailed me out with sacks of groceries when I was going through some really rough times.”

Now, as a gleaning volunteer, Cindy has the ability to help others get healthy food on their table.

Karlena Brailey, a long time gleaner with the program, participates in order to “personally have a connection to the food system and to give her daughter a connection to the land.” During a time in her life when her cost of living exceeded her income, she says gleaning “was like a gift…”  She loved feeling like she “didn’t have to ration seasonal produce”.  Nowadays Karlena donates a great deal of gleaned produce to the food banks because “it benefits community health in a significant way.”

Another enthusiastic supporter of the gleaning program is Forks resident Jody Schroeder, who even organized a gleaning event on his own this year. When asked what motivates him, he says, ” As a young father in the military, I had, on occasion, needed to go visit my local food bank for help through the government commodities program. If I can help another father with food for his kids, I will. There is nothing worse, I feel, than seeing food go to waste in someone’s garden when it could benefit some family with hungry children.”

Over and over again, the gleaners whom Sharah interviewed spoke of the importance of giving back.  They remembered times in their own lives when they were food insecure and friends, family, and even strangers stepped in to help them out.  Now they glean in order to bring healthy food to others who are struggling.

Jody Schroeder is now the president of a local food bank and loves seeing those shelves stocked with local produce. He says, “If people have extra food from their gardens, by all means, DONATE IT!  If you can’t pick it, call the gleaners.  Don’t let it rot on the vine when you can help feed the hungry…Nobody should go hungry.”

 

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Welcome, Robyn!

06.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Robyn Glessner was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She went to school in Seattle for a short time after high school before returning to Idaho to pursue a degree in International Business and French at the University of Idaho. She received her degree in December of 2017 after returning from a semester abroad in Pau, France. She had continued to work at a former college job as a barista in small local coffee shop before she started to explore what other avenues there were in the community for her to use to start developing professional skills as a working adult. Drawing on the values learned in a prior United Nations course from her undergrad, she knew that she wanted to do something that would benefit the health and sustainability of human practices and the earth’s resources. She began working at a privately owned, organic vineyard in the Snake River Valley, pruning grape vines. After that season ended she began working the spring growing season with a local, organic vegetable farm and a sustainable farming education non-profit in Moscow, Idaho. Through work with the farming non-profit, she was connected with this VISTA position in Pullman, Washington at the Community Action Center. She owes her success in finding this amazing opportunities in the community to the new acquaintances that were made who were so well integrated in the sustainable farming movement in the Palouse region. She is continually inspired with the collaboration, teamwork, support and resources that are created by the amazing community of farmers, educators, non-profit leaders, and university resources to make up this amazing team of sustainable farming cheerleaders. These people inspired her to serve in this field of local hunger awareness and relief.

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, which has been an endless proponent and advocate for ending hunger through sustainable food production and community collaboration throughout the Palouse for 30 years. One of their moto’s is, “solving local needs with local solutions”, which perfectly frames my desire to work in an area that provides relief with sustainable solutions at its center. The office also provides energy assistance, housing, and weatherization services, as well as a food pantry, community garden, and computers for WorkSource applicants. In tandem with the desire to connect local food insecure communities with the food producers in the region, the CAC and the first-year VISTA created the Palouse Tables Project. Within the work of this project, the regional community had expressed a desire for educational opportunities open to the public focused on self-sufficiency, in the form of preparing and preserving their own foods and gardening. Along these lines, the Palouse Tables Project will continue by providing opportunities for education courses and materials by adapting curriculum and coursework and then training local volunteers to teach these skills to the public.

 

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Welcome, Malik!

30.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Hello y’all,

I’m very excited to give some information on Community Food Share and the Garden Share Program that I will be coordinating this year. Community Food Share is a non-profit organization that looks to eliminate poverty in Boulder and Broomfield counties of Colorado, a problem that is faced by every 1 in 8 people here. With a major emphasis on fresh produce and protein, Community Food Share has been working with local food companies, private and public donors, and independent and corporate food volunteers since 1981 to help our neighbors in need. We also serve as one of the few national food banks that don’t charge our participants or food pantries for food, which is something we take great pride in. We do this while also managing to provide food, over 75% of which is fresh produce and protein including milk, beef, chicken, and eggs. Within Community Food Share is the Garden Share Program, which helps coordinate with local farmers, gardeners, and green-thumbers to help bring in fresh, locally grown produce. A major component of Garden Share is the gleaning program that happens, where volunteers come to a local garden or farm and help to pick the produce that may otherwise be thrown away or not bought at the store, or as we generally call them, “the seconds”. With this program in the past two years we have helped to save over 40,000 pounds in gleans alone, with another over 200,000 pounds coming from local farmer donations, and I can’t wait to build on those numbers!

Some background info about me: I’m a recent spring 2018 graduate from the University of Iowa with a degree in Enterprise Leadership and a minor in Psychology. The major areas of focus for my degree were entrepreneurial, social, and leadership studies paired with practical business skills and etiquette. My previous position before coming to Community Food Share was an apprentice with Grow: Johnson County, a non-profit, organic farm that harvests and donates all of the crops from about 4.5 acres to local area food missions, such as broccoli, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, okra, and some 70 other crops. This past harvest season we donated over 40,000 pounds of organic produce to community partners in the Johnson County area to help distribute to our neighbors in need of good food. While working with Grow, I developed the strong belief that good food is a human right, and I full-heartedly believe that mantra and love supporting organizations and people pushing for that same right for all. Some passions and hobbies of mine include gardening, cooking, reading, writing, traveling, and being involved with almost anything outdoors.

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Sweet Potatoes for Days in Mississippi

30.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Lindsey Shaw serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in Mississippi/Arkansas. In 2018, SoSA MS gleaned 2,751,580 pounds of fresh produce in 461 events, with 2,515 volunteers. Food donated by 74 farmers has been distributed to hungry people through 240 feeding agencies. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. 

Every year, Southern Miss University puts on an annual Crop Drop during homecoming week to help feed their neighbors on campus and the surrounding community. Not once has this event worked out as planned! Last year our driver cancelled at the last minute. So, when life throws a curb ball, don’t freak out! Ask your community partners how to adapt to make it successful.

We are so glad that there are so many dedicated organizations in Mississippi that are committed to feeding their neighbors and communities. At this event, one difficulty after another presented itself as a barrier to us doing the crop drop, but our partners were dedicated to making it happen.

Our volunteer drove an 18-wheeler full of 20,000 pounds of potatoes almost 4 hours across the state to deliver at the drop spot, but arrived 3.5 hours later than anticipated. Volunteers started to fall off since the truck was late and other homecoming activities were scheduled. What were we to do with 20K pounds? That’s #sweetpotatoes for days…

At that point, a volunteer named Jim drove his forklift, volunteers and pallets from across town to help move things. What ended up happening was awesome! We ended up bagging 20,000 sweet potatoes in 1.5 hours. Due to a lot of our partners that came together, it was fast! People were overwhelmed by the response they received from their partners. People from all over the state Facebook liked, shared, and wanted to be involved, asking how they could help.

This one event is helping other non-profits grow and potentially get more food to their community. The video showing the results gave publicity and community awareness to the issues of hunger and highlighted those doing the work. It was a motivating force because of the unique situation. Jim found out the adaptation. He stepped out of his routine and helped by driving his fork lift 12 miles per hour across town! This video reached 2,500 views in one day, which isn’t going viral, but for the town of Hattiesburg, that’s a lot of people!!! People everywhere saw and that one video was worth all the hiccups. Sometimes we have to step back and measure our success in a different way. Things don’t always work out perfectly or timely but touching people and impacting lives is our ultimate mission.

It looked like a terrible day, but what ended up happening is that more people were available to help! Takeaway: You can’t get too bogged down when some things go wrong. You have to have faith in your partners that there’s a plan in motion for every obstacle when we work together.

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The Palouse Tables Project Uses ArcGIS Story Mapping to Communicate Findings

15.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Michelle Blankas, serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and community food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and Basic Food. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA.

The Palouse Tables Project is approaching the “Dissemination of Information Phase” of the project. A draft of the assessment and planning project has been completed and is undergoing formatting and editing. However, most people either do not have the time or patience to read a whole assessment and planning report. To make the project findings and results more communicable, the HAH VISTA has used ArcGIS Story Mapping to share those results. The story mapping interface has the advantage of being interactive, short, concise, incorporating major highlights of the report without getting too much into detail, and it illustrates information spatially or geographically which usually resonates with the public.

In order to use GIS software, the VISTA had to coordinate and leverage partnerships for the Palouse Tables Project. At the current HAH site, Community Action Center, GIS software is unavailable and because it usually takes some basic skill level to work GIS, applying for the program seemed unsustainable. However, the University of Idaho Extension, which supports a partnering agency, the Palouse-Clearwater Food Coalition (PCFC), was willing to host the Palouse Tables Project Story Map on their domain. This domain also hosts other community food projects for the PCFC so it was a more fitting place for the project to live. Additionally, it bolsters the relationship between the Community Action Center, PCFC, and the University of Idaho Extension. It also is far more sustainable in terms of the life of the project. Where there are some experienced GIS users on the UI Extension side that can work on the project after the HAH VISTA leaves, the Community Action Center does not have that capacity. This partnership and shared programing took a couple months to develop and really took affect after an initial workshop with the University of Idaho system

The first year HAH VISTA is currently working on a small group that is willing to work on the project after she leaves. A couple of Washington State University students have shown interest in the PTP Story Mapping Project and have decided to volunteer some of their time to learn the program and work on it.

For the sake of sustainability, the HAH VISTA is also working on hosting an ArcGIS workshop for employees at the Community Action Center so that they can take on the PTP Story Mapping Project, edit as they see fit, and use it to communicate to the public more easily. Should the Community Action Center ever decide to adopt ArcGIS, then they will have some basic skills to work the program.

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The Long Haul: Produce Drops and Hurricane Relief

09.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

Often times during a VISTA’s term, the capacity-building tasks can often seem like the boring ones. Crunching numbers, raising funds, logistics, and so on are critical to maintaining and creating programs but also far from entertaining. For SoSA Florida, some of this drudgery comes from produce drops.

A ‘drop’ is when a grower donates produce by the truck or pallet load, rather than a row in a field. Typically this product has already been harvested, and the task at hand is to facilitate transportation and placement. Bleh. However, powering through these doldrums can earn the highest reward.

HAH VISTA Elise Tillema and her host site, the Society of Saint Andrew, have coordinated several of these drops, each providing tons of produce and rewards. The Neena Eisenberg Potato Drop, for example, brought in over 10 thousand pounds of produce but also honored the memory of an ardent supporter and volunteer. In the wake of devastating hurricanes, traditional gleaning became obsolete. In response, SoSA Florida helped move 120 thousand pounds of produce to communities impacted by Florence. Forty-four thousand pounds of bottled water made it to the Panhandle in the wake of Michael, with another drop on the radar.  It is in times of crisis and joy that one must dig in her heels in and push. Working through seemingly humdrum tasks allowed Elise and her site to not only innovate, but expand their services for those who need it most.

 

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Four Months of Gleaning at Hollin Farms in Fairfax, VA

01.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.

Approximately 55 miles west of Washington, D.C., there sits a small, quiet town nestled in the rolling hills of Fauquier County, Virginia. Signs for wineries and orchards flank the long expanse of highway that eventually leads to Hollin Farms. The pick-your-own farm, though off the beaten path, is a destination that many city-dwelling families make the pilgrimage to every fall. In the summer, various creatures can be spotted stealing berries off of the bushes and drinking from the brook that runs through the hills. In the fall, the canopy of trees are set ablaze with crimson and gold.

Hollin Farms has been in the Davenport family for four generations. Matt, who is the primary farmer, boasts an agricultural degree from Cornell. He was also the recipient of both the Young Farmer Achievement Award and the Harry Jones Conservation Farmer Award. Food for Others was connected with Hollin Farms when both groups attended a food justice conference in Delaplane. The Davenports had always welcomed gleaning volunteers to the farm, but groups they had in the past were inconsistent at best and disrespectful at worst. After guidelines were set, Matt agreed that if Food for Others was able to provide dedicated, passionate volunteers, he would allow the food bank to glean on a consistent basis.

Roughly twice a month on Sunday afternoons, Food for Others would bring in a group of 15-25 volunteers to glean apples, peaches, corn and more. Community and corporate groups enjoyed their time on a gorgeous farm not far from home while helping a non-profit organization. Expectations and rules were clear; the golden rule given to the volunteers was to respect the farm. Often, these volunteers would pick and purchase their own fruits and vegetables after the gleaning was finished. This created a mutually beneficial relationship between Hollin Farms and Food for Others.

 

 

Food for Others apple gleaning with Volunteer Fairfax, at Hollin Farms, Delaplane, Va, Sunday, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Max Taylor)

The last gleaning of the year was held on October 28 in conjunction with VolunteerFest, an annual event put on by Northern Virginia area community organization Volunteer Fairfax. The 25 participants who signed up harvested 1,419 pounds of apples between 11AM and 1PM, and learned about food waste and hunger in the process.

Four months, six gleans and 6,549 pounds later, the season has finally come to an end. As a first and important priority, Food for Others was able to feed hundreds of families with the produce Hollin Farms provided. However, the greatest gift of all was not just the produce… it was forging a great relationship between the farm and the food bank that will continue for years to come.

Food for Others apple gleaning with Volunteer Fairfax, at Hollin Farms, Delaplane, Va, Sunday, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Max Taylor)

 

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The Community Action Center in Pullman, WA Hosts Volunteer Appreciation Month for October

24.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Michelle Blankas, serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and Community Food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and Basic Food. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA. One of the topics brought up throughout the Palouse Region, in the Palouse Tables Project, is how to engage and maintain volunteers throughout the year. One way to engage is through volunteer appreciation.

 

The AmeriCorps VISTA organized an Ice Cream and Coffee Social Hour for Volunteer Appreciation Month at the Community Action Center in Pullman.

For the month of October, the VISTA organized ways to appreciate the work that Community Action Center volunteers do. The last event planned for volunteer appreciation was in 2015 and was received with mixed emotions. Many of the long term volunteers did not feel the need to be outwardly appreciated or hold appreciation events at the same time as orientation events. It was about time to do something special for them again but with their added input.

 

The Volunteer Appreciation Bulletin Board

The VISTA organized October as Volunteer Appreciation Month which included a bulletin in the lobby showcasing some of the volunteers and their reason for volunteering, soliciting donations for volunteer t-shirts and food items such as local pizza. The VISTA also coordinated a Coffee and Ice Cream Social Hour with long-term volunteers where they reflected on their experiences as volunteers and spent time with Community Food workers from the Community Action Center. This allowed for unstructured conversation with a small token of appreciation for all the hard work long-term volunteers do in a way that did not single any one person out.

Short-term volunteers that show up a few times a month were invited to participate in the Volunteer Bulletin Board and to wear Community Action Center Volunteer SWAG. These t-shirts were provided through donations from the community that the VISTA organized. This allowed for the food bank and the Whitman County community to recognize the work of volunteers.

These smaller actions of appreciation are easy to replicate and satisfy volunteers of different backgrounds and age groups in the future. These can be replicated throughout the year or once a year depending on the capacity of the agency and allow for creativity and flexibility.

 

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Cider Pressing Preserves Fall Apples on Vashon

11.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. As such, Sam works with a range of programs to bring in more island grown food to offer Food Bank customers.

Ahh it’s finally fall, a time many would call the most wonderful season of the year. The air is turning crisp, pumpkins, squash, and garlic abound, the leaves are changing colors, and… apples are everywhere! This has been an especially fruitful (pun intended) year for Washington fruit trees, and on Vashon Island it’s difficult to drive down a street without noticing an apple tree burdened with the weight of beautiful red and green fruit.

As a result of the abundance of fruit on the island, the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank has a received a plethora of fresh, island-grown fruit throughout the late summer and fall. While it’s a special thing for a hunger relief organization to be able to offer so much locally grown produce, the organization has found that it cannot distribute the fruit-mainly apples, pears, and plums-as fast as they are coming in. One way many residents of the island, as well as folks all across Washington, deal with this issue is by pressing the fruit into juice, and that is exactly what Harvest VISTA Sam Carp sought to do with the 30+ crates of apples the Food Bank had waiting in storage.

Working with one of the local cub scout troops, Sam and the Food Bank warehouse manager organized a cider pressing event to be hosted in front of the Food Bank garden. They worked with the Vashon Fruit Club to purchase half-gallon plastic jugs to store the cider, and were able to borrow a Meadow Creature cider press from Dragonshead Cider, a local cidery. With the help of the 10,000 lbs of pressing force supplied by the cider press, and the labor power of the cub scouts and their parents, the team was able to press all of the apples within about an hour and a half. It was a wonderful event, complete with music, snacks, and a view of Mount Rainier, and it will most certainly become a tradition at the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for years to come.

 

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Food Bank Staff Offers Many Hands in Harvest

04.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Brianna Nash, serves at Community Food Share, a member food bank of the national hunger-relief organization, Feeding America. Servicing the Boulder and Broomfield Counties on Colorado’s Front Range, Community Food Share distributed 10 million pounds of food in 2017, equal to 22,500 meals a day. Along with 41 partner agencies, Community Food Share distributes food with an onsite pantry floor, mobile pantry truck, and Elder Share program. 75% of the food distributed by the food bank is fresh produce, dairy, and other high-protein items. Brianna works as the produce and gleaning volunteer coordinator, engaging volunteers in growing and harvesting local produce for the food bank.

“Many hands make light work.”  VISTA Brianna has seen a great deal of volunteer groups make their way through the fields and gardens this season, and this phrase always rings true at the end of a day spent harvesting. In September, Brianna organized many hands from Community Food Share to volunteer at the food bank’s partner gardens – benefiting grower, harvester, and receiver along the way.

Community Food Share’s garden partner, Earth’s Table, grows 100% of its produce –from six large gardens – entirely for Community Food Share and  partner agencies of the food bank. The operation is also 100% volunteer-powered by hardworking garden managers, and a large network of volunteers throughout the community. So far this year the gardens have donated more than 27,000 pounds of food to Community Food Share and its partners.

The first VISTA at Community Food Share thought a great way to give back to these gardens would be to organize a food bank staff volunteer event. In keeping this tradition, VISTA Brianna organized the 2018 staff garden day for an afternoon in September.  During the normally scheduled staff meeting, all available employees made their way out to the garden and got to work! Garden Manager Michele had everyone doing a variety of activities, everything from pulling old squash and cucumber plants to harvesting tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and green beans. 

Not only was this a perfect way to have fun outside with fellow coworkers, but it was also necessary time spent connecting to the core of Community Food Share’s mission in providing healthy and nutritious food.  These kinds of events drive home the message of farm to food bank, plant to plate, garden to grocery (however you’d like to call it) – Community Food Share’s staff walked away with plenty of smiles and (hopefully!) very happy hearts. At the end of the day 13 staff members dedicated 24 hours of time in harvesting 424 pounds of squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and beans to be distributed the next three days at the food bank pantry. Many hands made light work!

 

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